If you are new to the teaching profession, I’d strongly recommend investing in at least a few of these games. Most of these you can find in your local games shop or online. They will make your life a lot easier and your lessons a lot more fun. Believe me, I only started to use these games after 10 years’ teaching! :-)
1) Snake Oil
Snake Oil is a party game where the players create a products to pitch to prospective buyers. The game is a lot of fun and it is extremely rich linguistically.
Good for practicing: relative clauses, describing, pronunciation of compound nouns, linking ideas, clauses of contrast, negative inversion for emphasis, making a convincing pitch.
2) Deception: Murder in Hong Kong
In Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, players have to work together solve a murder case based on some clues that they are given. The kicker is that one of the players will be the murderer! In fact there are a total of 5 different roles available, and these are randomly allocated at the outset with each role playing quite differently.
Good for practicing: comparing and contrasting, vocabulary (common, everyday items. Oh, and numerous causes of death), present speculation, making accusations, agreeing and disagreeing, making a persuasive argument, the passive for emphasising an action when the actor is unknown, giving a brief narrative.
3) Apples to Apples
Apples to Apples is one of the classics. From what I hear, it’s been quite popular in the US as a family game for some time, but it’s only recently popped onto my radar. It is a fantastically versatile game and is a great way of engaging students to practice lots of different kinds of vocabulary. From the original adjective version, all the way to idioms.
Good for practicing: vocabulary (general + most idioms), persuading, explaining, describing.
4) Once Upon a Time
Once Upon a Time has a long tradition in education, both mainstream and EFL. So much in fact, that I almost feel a bit cheeky writing about it, to be honest. I only decided to write about it as it seems to have criminally fallen off the radar in recent years.
Good for practicing: narrative tenses (past progressive, past perfect simple/progressive), storytelling, vocabulary (fairy tales and folk tales).
5) Man Bites Dog
Tabloids are fascinating. It’s extremely interesting how most are specifically written in order to be easily understood by the average native speaker, while at the same time remaining almost completely incomprehensible to most high-level learners.
Good for practicing: passive forms, vocabulary (the kind of slang you see in tabloids), sentence structure and word order, narrative tenses, sensitivity to formal and informal register.
Funemployed sells itself as a satirical party game. It is not wrong. It’s a lot of fun both in the classroom and over a few drinks with some less prudish friends. Players need to be able to both think on their feet and spin a good yarn. In short, this is a game for bullsh*tters. With the right group, FunEmployed is absolutely splendid.
Good for practicing: clauses of purpose, linking and organising ideas, negative inversion for emphasis, cleft sentences
7) Sheriff of Nottingham
Sheriff of Nottingham is one of the few games which works just fine straight out of the box. If you’ve never heard of or played Sheriff of Nottingham (SoN), then you should definitely try it twice. Why twice? Because you’ll learn so much about the game the first play through, that it’d be a shame not to play it again.
Good for practicing: negotiating, bartering and haggling, agreeing and disagreeing, real conditionals (making suggestions), hesitating.
In Pandemic, players cooperate to save humankind from four aggressive and fatal diseases. They have to work together closely, use their unique abilities and carefully plan their moves if they want to be successful in finding the four cures and winning the game.
Good for practicing: the names of nations and places, polite suggesting, agreeing and disagreeing as part of collaborative decision making, using real conditionals for speculating about solutions to problems.
Tormented spirits, psychedelic dreams and a murder most foul. Can your budding detectives discover who committed the crime?
Good for practicing: present speculation, describing abstract images, comparing and contrasting, hedging (sounding less certain), agreeing and disagreeing.
10) Wits and Wagers
A really neat twist on a trivia game, where it doesn’t matter if you are right, but whether or not you can guess which of the other teams is right.
Good for practicing: present speculation, numbers, measures, comparing and contrasting, hedging (sounding less certain), agreeing and disagreeing.
If you’d like more information, and materials (lesson plans and language handouts) to go with these games, go to TEFLGamer (and then add a dot com). There are loads of activities and information about using board games for learning English, EFL, ESOL, ESL, EAL and a whole bunch of other fancy-sounding abbreviations.
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